More Than 1 in 5 Starwood Hotel Awards Are Changing Price in 2 Weeks. Here’s How Your Points Will Be Affected.

Starwood has released a list of hotels that will be going up and down in award category for 2015. Here’s a .pdf of the full list of changes. (.pdf)

Each hotel has a category assigned and that determines its price in points. The category is based on the expected average room rates the property will achieve in the coming year.

Award categories aren’t based on hotel quality, they’re based on the prices of its rooms.

It’s an annual process for Starwood, and their list is ‘near-final’ which is to say that occasionally there are changes not disclosed on the list (a hotel may appeal its categorization — it could want a lower category, encouraging more redemptions and incremental revenue, or the opposite .. and there could be amendments to a hotel’s projected room rates). Most of the changes happen through this process although sometimes during the course of the year a handful of hotels will be shifted and that won’t be disclosed systematically.

These changes go into effect March 10.

  • If you have any future reservations for hotels that are going down in price you’ll want to request points back once the new categories go into effect.
  • If you are even potentially contemplating reservations at any hotels going up in price, make those before March 10 to lock in current award rates, remember that hotel redemptions are fully cancellable (subject to a hotel’s standard cancellation rules).

The Upshot

This is going to be bad news for US members who like to redeem their points domestically in urban centers. But on the whole strikes me as reasonable.

About 22% of hotels are changing categories, about half of which are going up and half going down. I do not notice any going up or down more than one category.

What Regions of the World Go Up, and Which Go Down?

This may actually tell us as much about geopolitical and economic events as about the value of our points.

Hotels going up are almost exclusively in North America. Of the 130 going up in category, it looks like 95 are in the United States, 2 are in Canada and 3 are in Mexico. Mexico otherwise stays stable, and far more Canadian properties drop in category than go up.

Hotels going down are in China, India, Europe, South America and Canada. 15 hotels in China drop in category and 13 in India. The euro crisis and Grexit are taking their toll with 8 German hotels dropping, 3 in Greece, and a fear of contagion forcing down redemption prices in at 5 Italian and 4 Spanish properties.

Canada, largely spared the harshest conditions of the Great Recession, sees 15 of their hotels drop in category. While 22 drop in the US (with 95 increasing).

7 hotels go down in category in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile

What are Some Major Properties Getting More Expensive?

Notable among those increasing in price:

  • The Plaza Athénée in Bangkok goes from category 3 to 4. The W Retreat Koh Samui goes from category 6 to 7. No matter what unrest occurs in Thailand, the Thai Starwood properties don’t seem to get less expensive to redeem for.

  • St. Regis Punta Mita and St. Regis San Francisco go from category 6 to 7.

  • Le Parker Meridien Palm Springs goes from category 5 to 6. Somehow that property (and the Parker Meridien in New York) remain in Starwood despite allegedly defrauding the program of over a million dollars.

  • The Sheraton Seattle and the Westin Seattle go from category 4 to 5.

      View from the Westin Seattle

  • The Phoenician and the St Regis Houston go from category 5 to 6 along with the Westin Palo Alto and The Palace in San Francisco.

      The Phoenician

  • The Westin Austin at the Domain, Westin Portland, Westin San Francisco airport and Westin South Coast Plaza go from category 4 to 5

      Pool at the Westin Austin

  • The W San Diego – which saw $99 room rates during the depths of the Great Recession – is going from category 4 to 5.

What Are Some Majority Properties Getting Less Expensive?

Notable among those decreasing in price:

  • Schloss Fuschl in Austria, W Paris-Opera, Vedema on Santorini, and the St. Regis Rome drop from category 7 to 6
  • The Sheraton Steamboat Springs Resort in Colorado and the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas drop from category 7 to 6
  • Le Meridien Taipei, Grande Bretagne Athens, Hotel National Moscow and Sheraton Zurich drop from category 6 to 5
  • Westin and Sheraton Maui drop from category 6 to 5, and so does the Westin Kierland in Phoenix

      Westin Maui

  • Sheraton Singapore drops from category 5 to 4
  • Westin Arlington Gateway drops from category 5 to 4. This was a gem of the DC area, getting a renovation, though there’s now a Westin in Crystal City (also Arlington) as well.
  • Westin LAX drops from category 4 to 3.

Bottom Line

This is good for travelers to China, India, and parts of Europe. This is not good for domestic travelers, although there are some bright spots like the Westin Maui.

Ultimately it’s just part of the annual recategorization process, and we’re not seeing any big changes like new higher award categories or increase of points prices for any of the current categories.

The number of hotels shifting categories is relatively high, but they seem to be shifting only a category up or time and a nearly equal amount of hotels are going down as going up. Not a cause for alarm — but an annual time to be vigilant about your own future plans.

Last year I booked several stays at the lower category rate for hotels that were getting more expensive in 2014. I appreciate Starwood giving this notice even a couple of weeks in advance (though I’d appreciate more advance notice!) since it allows for these kinds of speculative bookings to be made.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Can’t believe how fast you got this information in blog form and published. Starwood lurker just gave the heads up less than 30 minutes ago.

  2. Le Meridien Ile Maurice drops to category 2. Too bad we can’t stopover in Paris on a Delta award anymore.

  3. Thanks! I was looking at anniversary weekends and just saved myself 18,000 points (assuming the hotel I booked would be in peak during my weekend).

  4. Sweet! Two of the three Starwood properties I booked for our summer trip have gone down a category and the third one was already a category 1, so wasn’t going anywhere!

  5. Actually this is a net negative change for travelers to China. Most ups are major urban area hotels while downs are hotels in tier 2/3 cities which you could find great corporate rate anyway…

  6. It’s a shame to see the Sheraton Bandung go from a Cat 2 to Cat 3 instead – though unsurprising given their recent renovations. It was a great option though, given the booming popularity of Bandung on weekends with a price point to match!

  7. Westin Beaver Creek drops to cat 5 from 6. Colorado ski hotels must be have priced themselves up too highly.

  8. This is pretty terrible for me as a primarily domestic traveler. I have most of my family “invested” in Starwood as we live in different parts of the country and have to travel quite a bit to see each other. I know it’s “just business” and the feelings are totally artificial but it’s hard not to take the overwhelming negative impact to US travelers personally.

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